Writing about 1940s hats

I’ve always loved hats and hair-coverings, and wish they hadn’t slipped out of fashion seemingly overnight. If I ever marry, I’m going to cover my hair with tichels (scarves) and snoods, which have come a long way in recent years. There are so many beautiful tichels nowadays, with so many lovely and elaborate wrapping styles. I also may purchase a sheitl (wig) for Shabbos and holidays. It’s part of the concept of hidur mitzvah, beautifying a mitzvah (commandment). There’s a teaching that we should be attractive, not attracting.

Orthodox Christian and traditional Catholic women still cover their hair at church, with equally beautiful veils and scarves. When I go to services at my Conservative shul, I’ve taken to covering my hair with a black snood-like hat with sequins, as well as tying my hair up under a tichel. I couldn’t do that at Orthodox services, since it’d look very odd for a known single woman to cover her hair.

I’m particularly fond of 1940s hats and hair-coverings, since a lot of my books are set during that decade. Here are some vintage advertisements, along with accompanying excerpts.

1940s men's hats

After the meal was finished, they headed to Dohány Utca for Kol Nidre.  Once again, Kálmán covered his head with a fedora, and the other boys wore more formal Homburg hats.  Artur’s hat was grey, Jákob’s was blue, and Móric wore a pale green hat.  For their part, Imre and Nándor also wore Homburg hats, both of them blue.  Though Nándor’s hat was unembellished like those of the other boys, Imre had spiced up his hat with a deep purple ribbon band and a near-matching crocus.

fedoras

“What about hair decorations?” Mirjam asked. “We’ve made some hair flowers and have some hairpins.  A formal hat is probably too much for a casual date.”

“I hate hats,” Csilla said. “At most, I’ll wear a women’s fedora like my old favorite hat, or a casual beret or tam.  Don’t expect me to wear something girly like a curvette or Calot.  I long for the day when hats are considered as old-fashioned as hoop skirts and hobble skirts, or at best are an optional fashion accessory like gloves and shawls.”

1940s head coverings

On Saturday afternoon, as they strolled along Dohány Utca, they were approached by an elegant older woman in a blue satin dress and a matching, wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with white silk faux flowers.  Her medium-brown hair was fashionably short and waved, tucked behind her small ears to highlight her tourmaline French hook earrings.  Though her legs were respectably covered to near the ankle, she compensated for the modest hemline with beautiful white peep-toe sandals revealing smoky pink stockings.  The final touch was a garnet necklace.

hair flowers

Mrs. Goldmark was dressed just as elegantly as before, in a sea-green silk dress, a medium blue straw hat festooned with peacock feathers, ivory silk stockings, cornflower blue peep-toe sandals with wedge heels, a sapphire necklace, and peridot earrings.  Eszter wondered if she’d been able to dress so nicely during the months in the ghetto.

1940s Sears hats

While the priest speaks with two young men in uniform, Milada pulls a purple lace veil out of her clutch and ties it over her hair.  Yustina removes her black pillbox hat and covers her hair with a peacock green veil, and Valya removes her dark pink Breton hat to put on an orange veil.

“I’ll have to start wearing hats once I’m in college,” Milada whispers. “I only get away with these wide bandeaux and hair flowers because I’m still in high school.  My parents don’t care a lot of fashionable, respectable women only wear hair flowers past girlhood; all that matters is that women have always worn hats in their experience.  I’ll have to wear my pretty hair flowers and bandeaux only when I’m not around them, and when I know I won’t be seen by anyone who knows them and will run to squeal.  It’s enough they grudgingly accept Ustya wearing pillbox hats instead of those huge cartwheel hats my mother likes.”

“She didn’t wear a cartwheel hat here,” Ilya says as the rest of Milada’s family moves into the church and the two young men in uniform continue talking with the priest.

“She needs something smaller to slip into her handbag when she ties the veil over her hair.  A giant cartwheel hat can’t very well fit into a normal-sized handbag.  I think I might wear Calots or curvettes.  Those hat styles are popular with girls my age, and seem the next-best thing to my hair flowers and bandeaux.”

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3 thoughts on “Writing about 1940s hats

  1. When I was a senior in high school, I would sometimes wear a beret made from blue-jean material. What was I thinking? I have no idea, but it was in the late 1980s. I always wondered why it was important for women to cover their hair for some religions and then I heard/read somewhere that of all the physical traits, a woman’s hair is what attracts men the most. For men, it is supposed to be their voice. So if the tables were turned in some strange universe, would men be unable to speak? Sounds like an concept to explore for a sci-fi tale.

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  2. Be still my vintage hat loving heart. What a magnificent array of yesteryear chapeaus – gents and ladies alike. Oh, for the days, when such were still an immensely commonplace sight. Can you imagine how incredible it would be to have whole hat shops and millinery sections in larger departments stores from coast to coast. It’s all I can do to keep my knees from buckling at the mere thought. 🙂

    Many hugs & happy weekend wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

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